What could a COVID-19 endemic look like? Ohio experts weigh in.

As Ohio continues to recover from the record-setting omicron COVID-19 variant, health experts are continuing to look at what’s next for the virus.

“COVID-19 is almost certainly here to stay,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. “So now the question for us is how do we learn to live with it. At what point have we moved from something that’s truly a pandemic to more of an endemic?”

OhioHealth Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Joe Gastaldo described as a pandemic as a worldwide phenomena where a population doesn’t have immunity to a disease or infection. With an endemic the disease or infection exists within a population indefinitely.

“Instead of these big peaks there’s likely to always be a baseline level of some type of infection or activity and it may go up or down based on the seasons,” said Gastaldo.

While the transition from pandemic to endemic is complicated, immunity is key, he said. The safest way to get immunity is through the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It is true if somebody gets COVID most people are left with varying degrees of immunity,” Gastaldo said. “Somebody’s immunity they get from natural infection can be variable from person to person. Somebody who is younger is likely to have a better degree of immunity than somebody who is older.”

As the state and health experts continue to monitor what’s next for the COVID-19 pandemic, Vanderhoff stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted in the mean time.

Ohio is continuing to recover from the omicron surge in December and January, with some hospitals in west central and southwest Ohio continuing to see a high volume of patients.

As of Thursday, there were 436 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in west central Ohio and 705 patients in southwest Ohio, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. West central Ohio includes Preble, Montgomery, Greene, Darke, Miami, Clark, Shelby and Champaign counties and southwest Ohio includes includes Butler, Warren, Clinton Hamilton, Clermont, Brown and Adams counties.

In the past three weeks hospitalizations have decreased by 31% in west central Ohio and dropped 30% in southwest Ohio.

Though initially it did not appear that the virus had a big impact on children, the omicron variant saw more children hospitalized with COVID.

In November, Dayton Children’s Hospital typically saw fewer than 15 patients hospitalized each week with the virus, but in January the hospital had as many as 68 inpatients testing positive for COVID-19.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Patty Manning reported a similar trend.

“Omicron had a significant impact on kids,” she said. “We saw a dramatic rise in our hospital and in children’s hospitals across the state at the middle to end of December.”

Cincinnati Children’s went from COVID hospitalizations in the high teens to 60 patients in a matter of weeks, Manning said.

With Pfizer recently submitting a coronavirus vaccine for children ages 2 to 5 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization, health experts are hoping to have an additional tool to help protect children.

“There is going to be a real benefit in being able to protect the youngest of our children,” Vanderhoff said. “While their overall frequency of developing serious illness is less than older people, as we’ve shared over and over, they are not immune from the negative impacts of this terrible disease.”

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